Author: Craig Perronne Main Photo: Maindru
What is the toughest off-road race on the planet? It is a question that we get asked a lot, and one that gets debated quite vigorously around our swanky cube farm at the palatial Dirt Sports World Headquarters. Of course, there are a few races that instantly rise to the top of the discussion. The Baja 1000, with its sheer length and brutality, is one. King of the Hammers and its insanely technical terrain that has been known to reduce grown men to tears is another. At the very top of the list though is the rally raid epic known simply known as Dakar.
Born in Africa and then moved to South America, the Dakar’s sheer distance and duration make many question the sanity of it and its competitors. The rally spreads itself out over 13 days of competition (with an additional rest day mercifully thrown in the middle) and usually runs over 5,000 miles over some of the toughest terrain in the world. Its huge distances grind both men and machine down, breaking even the toughest of competitors both physically and mentally. Unlike desert racing in the USA, luxuries such as GPS, radio communication, chase trucks and air support are banned, only adding to the difficulty of an already extremely difficult race. Just finishing it is a feat, with winning it an entirely different matter.
The 2014 running of the Dakar will be the longest ever attempted since the rally moved to South America.
Dakar 2014 As if this wasn’t enough, this year’s running of the Dakar will be the longest ever attempted since the rally was moved to South America. Starting on January 5th in Rosario, Argentina, the course will wind its way north through the extreme mountain passes of Bolivia and then back down along the length of the coast of Chile. Finally, 13 days after it all started, the Dakar finishes in Valparaiso, Chile.
The total distance of the rally is almost 6,000 miles, with over 3,000 of those being special stages. That route will also cross over the Andes and into Bolivia, setting a high-altitude record for the competitors as well. The specials are also rumored to be some of the most difficult ever, making for a Dakar that is longer, harder and even higher than before.
Place Your Bets So who will win the epic 2014 Dakar Rally? If we had to place any bets on who the winner will be, The Monster Energy X-Raid MINI team would be a safe one. Leading the team this year again will be Stephane Peterhansel who has won the Dakar the last two years in a row and has an amazing 11 total Dakar wins. With more wins than any other driver in Dakar history, Peterhansel is an extremely serious threat.
Another familiar name found on X-Raid’s roster is that of Nani Roma. While he doesn’t have the amazing record of Dakar wins that Peterhansel possesses (nobody does), he has won the rally twice on a motorcycle and placed second in 2012 and fourth in 2013 with the X-Raid team. He has also been on an absolute tear leading up to the Dakar, winning the 2013 Hungarian Baja, the Baja Aragon, the Desafio Ruta 40 and the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. With a strong record of victories heading into Dakar, 2014 could be Nani’s year.
Also coming back for the 2014 running of the Dakar rally is Krzysztof Holowczyc. Last year, he crashed in a dune section of the Dakar, injuring his back and forcing his retirement from the rally. In 2012, an uncharacteristic mechanical failure pushed him back in the pack and he finished 9th. While he has yet to win a Dakar, he has regularly shown speed, running among the frontrunners.
Making huge waves just before we went to press was the announcement that Nasser Al-Attiyah has joined the X-Raid MINI race team for the 2014 running of Dakar. Most of us remember Nasser from his teaming with Robby Gordon for the 2012 Dakar and the very public and nasty breakup that was the result. In 2013, Nasser teamed with Carlos Sainz in twin SMG buggies and was running well, winning multiple stages before bowing out with a failed water pump. Without a doubt, he would love to nerf Robby on his way to a win.
A threat to all-out MINI dominance comes in the form of Giniel De Villiers. His Toyota Hilux is by now very well sorted and he finished third in 2012 and second in 2013. Can he do one better for 2014? Villiers will also be joined by teammate Leeroy Poulter who is considered a rising star in the world of rally raid.
Carlos Sainz will also be back in the SMG buggy that showed much promise and speed in 2013. After a full year of testing and development, the buggy should be free from the teething problems that struck it last year. Sainz has already proven he can drive the new buggy at its limits and is also a candidate to take a podium or even a win. Overall though, knocking off the X-Raid MINI team will indeed be a feat. We have attended their testing sessions in Morocco, and their organization, preparation, manpower and resources are both extremely impressive and immense. Couple this with the best drivers in the sport and knocking the X-Raid team off the top can seem to be close to impossible. And with a staggering total of 11 X-Raid MINIs taking on the Dakar this year with plenty of talent behind the wheel, the odds are definitely stacked in their favor.
The MINI team is back in a big way with 11 entries into the 2014 Dakar. Leading the team will be Stephane Peterhansel who is looking for an amazing 11th Dakar win. Photo: Mini Motorsport
Those Pesky Americans One of the biggest thorns in the Monster Energy X-Raid MINI team’s side has been Robby Gordon. While he has shown immense speed in his massive Hummer, Gordon has yet to win. His 2012 running of the Dakar was marred by controversy as he was disqualified for non-conforming parts on his Hummer. The next year, Robby was running extremely well until crashing in the dunes.
For the 2014 running Robby Gordon was a bit of a question mark as he sold his two Hummers to another team, leaving him with no race vehicles. Always full of surprises, Gordon entered the rally leaving many wondering what he would actually race in. Rumors swirled that it would be a scaled-down version of his Hummer keeping much of the buggy design.
At a press conference in Paris just after the Baja 1000, Robby revealed that much of these rumors were not true. His new vehicle will actually be more of a conventional truck design with the engine mounted in the front and two-wheel drive. Even more surprising is that it will be based on his current SST truck, making it much smaller than his original Hummer. While his big Hummer ruled in the rough over the MINIs, its size made it somewhat less nimble in the many tight and technical sections of the route, allowing the MINIs to keep up with Gordon. Will the blending of V8 horsepower and lots of suspension travel in a smaller vehicle be what Robby needs to take it to the MINI team? We are not sure, but anything involving RG is always interesting.
Another team of Americans was produced by the ASO’s unique Dakar Challenge program that looks to bring new talent from North and South America, Africa and Australia who have never competed in the Dakar to the race. For North America, the two qualifying races were the HDRA Reno 500 and the SCORE Baja 500, with the winner of the challenge receiving free entry to the Dakar. While Peter Hajas won the Challenge with Jonathan Brenthel coming in second, both decided it would be better to team up to tackle the enormous race, with Brenthel Industries constructing the racer (for full details see this month’s Masterpiece In Metal). While a brand-new vehicle and team on a much smaller budget taking a win at the Dakar would indeed be a Cinderella story, the team hopes to add to the history of American achievement at the Dakar.
SCORE Baja 1000 winner and Trophy-Truck champion BJ Baldwin is also slated to race at the Dakar. Teamed with Eric Vigouroux, Baldwin will be driving a twin to EVR’s Proto VX-101 built by Jefferies Racing in the United States. Loosely based on the Chevy Colorado, the VX-101 is powered by a LS7 V8 mated to a Fortin transaxle. Baldwin is obviously fast in the desert and competed in the Dakar in 2010.
Robby Gordon will lead the charge of the Americans, but not in the big Hummer seen here. Rather he will used a modified version of one of his SST trucks to try to take his first win at the Dakar. Photo: MCH Photo
How To Watch With all of this, it goes without saying that the 2014 running of the Dakar will indeed be an epic one and something you should take part in. If you can’t physically be at the race, the best way to watch it is the daily coverage that will start on the NBC Sports Network starting on January 5th. Make sure to check your local listings for the right time. We will also be at the Dakar to bring you daily updates and photos with our very own www.dirtsportsnation.com so make sure to check it out for the latest on Dakar 2014.
Nasser Al-Attiyah drove a buggy teamed with Carlos Sainz last year, but joined the X-raid MINI juggernaut for 2014. Photo: Maindru